Last year while I was still a volunteer for The U.S. Peace Corps in Rwanda the coordinator in charge of media asked volunteers to submit stories. I asked him if there were particular topics that were underrepresented. His response came in a bullet-pointed list of stock ideas, and I lost interest. My disinterest was more my fault than his. See, I already had an idea in mind, and I probably would have done better to be open about that. I guess I assumed that Peace Corps was unlikely to publish my writing. Since I made that assumption and imposed that limit on myself, we may never know. However, I have decided to publish my original idea here.
Service in The Peace Corps is like a soft-boiled egg.
Specifically, it is like cooking a soft-boiled egg. Chefs with decades of expertise have their preferred methods, and these have been printed and bound. They conveniently and immediately appear with a few keywords in a search box online. A volunteer looking to find the perfect temperature of gently boiling water and the precise amount of time can do so, no problem. Take a screenshot, order a copy, jot it down. Take it with you and get ready to share your soft-boiled eggs with all the developing nations of this world.
Then, when you arrive do not be surprised to find that the seasoned experts were not taking the environment of your new home into consideration when they deposited their knowledge into the digital cloud. Shopping towns throughout the world may not carry immersion circulators. Heck, most folks in your town in the U.S.A. probably have never heard of an immersion circulator–why are you surprised?
So, you may adjust. Your new neighbors might cook with a tin pot propped atop three rocks, or with tightly bound banana leaves over steam, or maybe they bury their ingredients in the desert sand and let the sun do its thing. You watch. You listen. You imitate and try the local way. You do this, because you are eager to share the perfect soft-boiled egg. Your new neighbors are going to be so impressed, and you will feel like you are making a difference.
You think about how it feels to cut into that firm white protein to reveal the flowing, golden yolk. It is a miracle each time, so comforting with toast and a slice of avocado, a true achievement of strategy and timing.
Your supervisors recommend a survey, and you oblige. Before proceeding, it may be best to assess the community’s opinions and formally determine the need for expert cookery technique. With the right form saved onto your USB, and your growing vocabulary in this community’s language, you are prepared to evaluate. Only, you do not own a printer. Your neighbor does not own a printer, but she takes you to what she calls a papeterie. There, you hand over the USB stick, and a sleepy fellow finds the survey document, clicking a button, the machine whirs. Out comes a smeary form. The five-by-five table is barely visible. The words are more pink and blue than “automatic” black. No, try again. Out spits the printer another, this time slightly more legible but let’s be honest, not acceptable. Community leaders will see this. You need buy-in and understanding.
Try again, and again. It is no good, and you-know-what, forget it. The survey was not, after all, your idea. You decide to forego it. Your supervisor will never know, and besides, you already know your host community so well that you can fill in the responses on their behalf. Everyone tells you how fluent you have become. You are practically a local.
The fellow in the shop interrupts your thoughts. You may reject the sloppily printed forms, but the paper is used, all the same. He asks for two thousand, and you bargain it down to one-eight. He rolls his eyes and bids you good day.
After an appropriate amount of integration and planning you are ready. You invite the chief and the philanthropic businessmen. Even the motorcycle taxi drivers are invited because they are most often men and this will count toward your “gender inclusivity” points with the Corps.
All the attendees gather around you as you make a speech. Light applause even breaks out upon hearing your confident greetings in the language you have been learning. After it is clear that the focus of eyes and ears is yours, and before attention begins to wander, you know that it is the right moment.
You unveil your “culturally appropriate” cooking apparatus and your uncooked eggs. Explaining the exciting novelty of a good soft boil, you begin to demonstrate the method. Flames accidentally extinguish halfway through. Your coworker has forgotten to bring a thermometer with which to measure the water’s temperature. Small obstacle after incident persist, but you pull through. Terrified, you guess at the right moment and withdraw the egg from its bouncing about in the water. Tapping it with a small spoon, you crack the shell. It is perfect. Despite all odds, despite lack of the resources with which you feel comfortable, you have done it! Screw the experts–forget expensive technology–yes, this is all you ever needed!
You hold the perfectly soft-boiled egg aloft, so that your local stakeholders may see the result.
Then, an attendee speaks. He politely proffers, “How nice, you have really done it. But, we do not consume animal products, dear.
“We are vegans.”